Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Monday Blog: March 25, 2013
It is only day three of our trip, but the experience seems to grow exponentially with each passing day. Today was intense on so many levels: I had more fun, met more powerful speakers, and feel like we reached a level of real dialogue in our group reflection that will be hard to surpass. First things first: the Casa de Solidaridad meeting this morning.
Casa de Solidaridad is a place where university students from the U.S. live and study side by side with Salvadoran students. The casa itself is very striking. To go inside, it is necessary to walk up a flight of stairs to a second story level, where there is a beautiful garden that one must see to believe. There are huge trees growing up there, like a piece of forest juxtaposed on a city roof. I could not stop wondering about these trees, how they survive in an environment so alien to them, not unlike the many Salvadorans who have emigrated to the U.S. The Casa program provides opportunities to young Salvadorans who have stayed: although a university degree is no guarantee of a career here, it is at least a step in the right direction. These young people also help to educate the U.S. students in Salvadoran life and culture.
After leaving the Casa, we headed to the IMU, a center for women’s research, education, and activism, to speak with the institute’s director, Deisy Cheney, about the struggle for gender equality in El Salvador. Many of us agreed that she was the most powerful speaker we have heard so far. She spoke with a calm but firm moral conviction about many interconnected topics: gender inequality, sexual violence, incest, contraception, machismo ymarianismo, and the connection between capitalism and patriarchy. The situation for women in El Salvador is terrible. The rate of femicide is very high, sexual violence and incest toward women and girls are rampant, and women are expected to accept these things as their crosses to bear. Luckily, there are women like Deisy, who do not accept this, who are organizing for women’s rights, but there are powerful forces against them. The church continues to support patriarchy, to resist reform, manipulate politics, and tell girls they will go to hell if they use condoms. Even when women get laws passed that are supposed to protect them, men who kill their wives still receive impunity if they are powerful or rich enough.
Deisy delved into the psychology of men who act violently and repress their wives, with such clarity that I was forced to examine my own psychology. In both the U.S. and El Salvador, men are conditioned to feel that they must be in charge, they must be tough, they must be real men. But what is a real man? The feeling of not being man enough drives men to violence. Perhaps if we men speak more to each other about how we do not feel good enough, powerful enough, virile enough to meet society’s expectations of us, these expectations lose their power to twist and manipulate our emotions and actions.
Deisy told us how poor men who are oppressed by neoliberal capitalism are not happy under patriarchy either. She connected capitalism and patriarchy so clearly, I was surprised I had never made the connection before. Together they represent one enemy, which must be fought in a concentrated way, rather than distinct issues that must be addressed separately. We were so entranced by Deisy’s conviction and power in communicating the women’s struggle in El Salvador that we would have spent all day asking questions, but we had more meetings to attend to.
After a quick lunch, we met with several labor organizers to learn about the struggles of unions in El Salvador. Like women, their struggles are many. El Salvador is privatizing fast, and every service or business that privatizes takes away rights and benefits from union workers, if not outright firing them for unionparticipation. We learned about the Public Private Partnerships Law that the U.S. is pushing for, which would allow private businesses to receive funding from the government, in order to encourage their investment. Once they are in power, these companies can set extremely high prices for services like electricity and water. They remove profit from the country and do not benefit the Salvadoran people. The new projects, like a highway across southern El Salvador connecting various ports, are not evil in and of themselves. Many Salvadorans are willing to see these projects occur, but they want a cut, instead of being cut out of all profits as their people are exploited.
Our next stop was a Christian base community, El Pueblo de Dios en Camino, where pictures of martyrs were prominently displayed on most of the walls. These communities draw so much inspiration from the martyrs of the Salvadoran Civil War, who continue on Jesus’ tradition of standing up for the poor, no matter the cost to themselves. The community has no priest, although they still view themselves as Catholic. They had bad experiences with their last priest. He viewed himself as God’s conduit, while raping boys and oppressing the congregation in every way possible. Hewent unpunished for his crimes, because the church hierarchy sent him to Rome, where he may very well have continued to abuse children. Experiences like this caused members of the community to distrust the church, who view them as dangerous Marxists who profane true Catholicism. It seemed obvious to me that their humble religiosity was a thousand times more authentic than the church hierarchy. Not only that, but this community is making a real difference in the world, by creating a cooperative alternative and offering microloans to families in the area. They sell many beautiful crafts to help support this endeavor, some of which our group members will be bringing home.
From the pueblo we headed to dinner at a well-known pupuseria high in the hills above San Salvador. We were serenaded by a mariachi band, who even performed my request: Sabor a Mi. Afterwards we enjoyed the view from a lookout vista, where people were listening to a mixture of banda and merengue music. I danced like a crazy fool, as usual, pulling as many of our group members to join in as were willing (or almost willing). We danced so frenetically that I felt a bit queasy on the ride home, but it was so worth it!
Our last event of the evening was our group reflection. We talked about how to improve the delegation experience, how to put more emphasis on the Salvadorans and less on us. Many of us were concerned about the possible futility of programs like these. We want to get closer to making a real difference, and not just enjoy a Salvadoran vacation while excising liberal guilt. I hope that this trip can light a fire in each of us that will continue to burn as we pursue individual ways to be positive forces in the world.
Just like that, another day was done. We were a day closer to leaving, but I do not know if Salvador will ever leave us. I hope not. I cannot wait to see what happens during the rest of the week. This was only the third day, and things get more intense day by day. Still, no matter how intense they get, I believe we will compassionately support each other as a group. I feel our bonds growing stronger, and it fills me with joy.
Posted by Geoff at 6:55 AM